The Man in the Black Hat. It is an image built upon old film Western’s that connotes a tall dark mysterious figure. Smirking. Grizzled. Formidable.
in short, The Villain.
For Saturday’s Portland Timbers season finale against the San Jose Earthquakes (3:30pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 101.1 FM KXL / La Pantera 940), hulking defender David Horst may as well be the leader of a whole band of outlaws all sporting black hats. Despite Quakes fans and much of MLS rooting against them, their aim will be to deny San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski in his quest for the single-season goal scoring record.
Currently sitting on 26 goals in a spectacular 2012 campaign, the one-time 2005 4th round Supplemental Draft pick Wondolowski is two goals away from breaking Roy Lassiter’s record set in 1996 with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Lassiter has even traveled to Portland to be on hand as a special guest at JELD-WEN Field should the 17-year old record fall.
So while the Earthquakes have wrapped up the Supporters Shield and are on their way to the playoffs and the Timbers come in to the match after an emotional Cascadia Cup win in Vancouver, all eyes will be on whether Wondo can break the record. San Jose fans as well as neutrals may be cheering for him to succeed, but for Horst and his band of desperados, they’ll be looking to play spoiler. As such, it should come as little surprise that the two players make up the KeyBank Match-up.
Much is made of the Timbers rivalries with the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps to the north. Those matches certainly did not disappoint this year along with Portland players and fans relishing winning the aforementioned Cascadia Cup. But this season has also seen some hard-fought matches for the Timbers against their Western Conference foes to the south in San Jose.
In June, the Quakes came into JELD-WEN Field already in the mix for best record in the league. Wondolowski was piling up the goals but then ran into a buzzsaw of a defense with Horst leading the way. Wondo was held to only one off target shot for the whole match, picked up a yellow in the second half and the Timbers prevailed 2-1. Words were said, tempers flared and passions ran rampant. It was one of the Timbers signature wins on the year.
Fast forward to September at Buck Shaw Stadium in California. Portland leapt out to a 2-0 first half lead behind a brace from Danny Mwanga—all three of his goals this season have come against San Jose—only to have Wondolowski get the better of Horst and the Timbers this time with a brace of his own and sneak out a 2-2 draw. Wondo managed four shots on the night, converting on two of them with the second being a stoppage time back-breaker. If June was the table setter for emotions, this September clash upped the stakes considerably as tempers boiled over. Players on both sides had to be separated at the final whistle as more words were said, perhaps this time even more vehemently. Suffice to say, these two teams have a grudge match brewing.
Come Saturday, the opportunistic Wondolowski will do what he does best in looking to find perfect position to deliver that killing strike. His teammates and coaches have already said this week that they’ll be doing everything in their power to help him break the record and with equally physical, crafty and provocative forwards in Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart riding in as cavalry, the Quakes definitely present a formidable attack.
While Wondolowski may be a gunslinger, Horst is no stranger to mixing it up. Some of his best performances of the year have come in big games and he’ll be leading a backline of black-hatted bandits all looking to deny the record occurring in their house.
Provided that Horst and his teammates can keep level heads and stick to their game plan, they’ll have the churning cauldron of JELD-WEN Field cheering them on not as villains, but as heroes.